Arrest of Native Consortium boss Edmond Abu irks SDI

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July 18, 2018

By Alusine Sesay

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Edmond Abu in a police vehicle after his arrest yesterday
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Not cowed: Abu (middle) at the Central Police Division in Freetown

Executive Director of Native Consortium and Research Centre, Edmond Abu was yesterday arrested and detained by the police, although he was released late in the evening. Abu and his Native Consortium had planned to stage a peace protect in Freetown against the removal of subsidy on petroleum products last Friday by the new government.

According to competent sources, the civil society activist was arrested at Saint John Roundabout, west of Freetown, by a group of riot police officers just as he unfurled a banner calling on President Bio to reverse the decision to remove the subsidy, which has caused prices of basic commodities to soar.

He was put in the back of a waiting police truck and whisked to the Central Police Station in Freetown, before transferred to the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters.

A group of lawyers, activists and journalists were at CID headquarters to solidarise with the Native Consortium boss and pressurise the police to release him on bail. Their pressure paid off late in the evening when the police agreed to release him on bail on the recognisance of a surety – Amnesty International Country Director, Solomon Sogbandi.

The arrest of the activist sparked widespread anger and condemnation within and outside the country with activists calling for his immediate release and respect for the right to peaceful demonstration.

Society for Democratic Initiative (SDI), in a press release, condemned the arrest of Edmond Abu.

In their press release titled ‘The Arrest of Edmond Abu condemned, Public Protest welcomed and Freedom to Peaceful Assembly Emphasized,’ the right group noted that: “The Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI) strongly condemns the arrest of Edmond Abu of Native Consortium who held a peaceful protest over the removal of fuel subsidy which has consequently led to the increase of fuel product prices in Sierra Leone from Le. 6,000 to Le.8, 000.”

The release continues that SDI fully believes that citizens should enjoy their fundamental human right to protest against government policies without any limitation or hindrance from the Police.

“On this occasion, we also want the Sierra Leone Police to be mindful that the right of Freedom to Peaceful Assembly and Association can be exercised by individuals, groups and associations. Participation in peaceful assemblies helps ensure that people have the opportunity to express opinions they hold in common with others and supports dialogue within civil society and among civil society, political leaders and government, as well as being important for the full enjoyment of other Human Rights,” the release stated.

It further notes that restriction on freedom of association creates a chilling effect on people and limits their ability to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

“There is a justifiable culture of fear in Sierra Leone because people know that if they come out to protest, they’re going to be intimidated in one way or another and it is unlikely that anyone will stand up for you.”

The right group stated that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, together with the closely related rights to freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression, are enshrined in human rights treaties to which Sierra Leone is a party, including the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights, the Africa Charter, while the Constitution of Sierra Leone explicitly provides for the Right to Freedom of Assemble, which includes the right to protest.

“Member states have an obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill these rights, that is, to ensure that their  own agents do not violate these rights further that no restrictions are imposed on them other than those which are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for a legitimate purpose permitted under international law; to protect the exercise of these rights against interference by third parties; and to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are able to exercise these rights in practice.”

Meanwhile, Abu briefly told Concord Times after his release that he would not be “cowed by any arrest.” quoting former United States President Abraham Lincoln, he said: Our life begins to end the day we keep silent about things that matter. We maintain an irrevocable and unwavering stance against the recent increment in the pump price of fuel.”